What Causes Sleep Apnea?

A full, healthy, and restful night’s sleep typically happens when you are able to fall asleep virtually without effort. As a result, you should awaken feeling refreshed and ready to go. Sleep apnea causes interruptions in normal, healthy sleep patterns and can have significant effects on your daily life and overall health. While snoring is often associated with sleep apnea, the condition can also result in dangerous breathing pauses during sleep, which can increase health risks and even lead to sudden cardiac death. Obesity, heredity, exposure to tobacco smoke, and structural problems in the oral cavity are all known to be potential risk factors for developing sleep apnea; however, the condition can manifest without those factors coming into play as well.

At Fulbright Snoring & Sleep Solutions, Dr. Michael Fulbright is a diplomate of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and he offers comprehensive diagnostic and sleep apnea treatment programs to help patients suffering from this common condition. Our goal is to help you achieve a healthy night’s sleep and reduce many of the symptoms and risks of sleep apnea.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are a number of different types of sleep apnea. It’s important to remember that one of the most frightening things about the condition is that many people who suffer from sleep apnea are completely unaware they have it. They may be experiencing the effects of sleep apnea in their daily lives but are not able to connect those symptoms with the underlying condition. In many cases, it takes a loved one to notice what happens in their sleep before they realize something may be wrong.

Here are a few of the more common types of sleep apnea and the conditions that often lead to them:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Central Sleep Apnea
Complex Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

More than 20% of healthy adults in the U.S. are affected by Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), and an alarming amount of children suffer from pediatric sleep apnea as well. OSA typically occurs due to a restricted or collapsed airway during sleep. If tissues in the oral and/or nasal passages become too relaxed, a healthy flow of air can be prevented from reaching the lungs. When this happens, breathing can come to a stop for extended periods. These breathing pauses can happen multiple times during sleep (from 5 to 100 or more times per hour, in some cases). Such frequent pauses while breathing can deplete oxygen levels in the bloodstream and increase heart rate. A person with OSA may gasp or choke during sleep as the body frantically signals the brain to ramp up breathing efforts.


In addition to breathing pauses and gasping/choking during sleep, symptoms of OSA can include snoring, headaches, depression, irritability, daytime sleepiness, memory loss, and many other concerns. It can also lead to a variety of severe health risks.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is less common than Obstructive Sleep Apnea; however, it is no less dangerous. This type of sleep apnea occurs when the brain temporarily stops signaling muscles that control normal breathing. Central Sleep Apnea often affects individuals who have had conditions affecting the brainstem, such as a stroke, a brain infection, or cervical spine (neck) issues. It can also affect those suffering from severe obesity and people who are on certain types of medication. While there are some basic differences with OSA, CSA nonetheless shares one of OSA’s most serious symptoms: breathing pauses during sleep.

CSA can ultimately cause the stopping of breathing multiple times during sleep, as well as shortness of breath and gasping for air, chronic fatigue, headaches, mood swings, snoring, problems concentrating, and many other symptoms.

Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome

Complex sleep apnea, also known as “mixed” sleep apnea, is the term used for individuals who suffer from both Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea. In many cases of complex sleep apnea, patients who are diagnosed with OSA and are treated with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (CPAP) experience a reduction in airway obstructions but their breathing still doesn’t significantly improve. This can indicate that CSA may also be a factor in their condition.

Contact Fulbright Snoring & Sleep Solutions

Dr. Michael Fulbright and our team at Fulbright Snoring & Sleep Solutions offer a number of advanced treatment options for sleep apnea. For more information, or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Fulbright, please contact us today.